Move aside, baseball season. Never mind, beach season. For astronomy nerds, this summer marks supermoon season.
On Tuesday night, sky watchers will witness the first of three summer supermoons. A supermoon occurs when a full moon also happens to be at its closest distance to Earth in its orbit, known as perigee. Supermoons appear brighter and larger to us on Earth, providing spectacular nighttime gazing if skies are clear.
The moon will appear full starting Sunday night but will technically reach full illumination Tuesday at 7:52 a.m. Eastern. At around 7:24 p.m. Tuesday, the moon will be close enough to our Earth to be a supermoon. It will come within 222,238 miles of Earth (about 16,000 miles closer than its average distance) and could be about 7% larger and 15% brighter than a regular full moon.
While the criteria for a supermoon will be met Tuesday, the moon will appear full and bright in the night sky Monday through Wednesday. Check timeanddate.com for local moonrise and moonset times.
This month’s full moon will also be the lowest full moon of the year, hovering only 23.3 degrees above the horizon Wednesday at 1:56 a.m. Eastern, according to NASA. Binoculars, a telescope or an excellent camera may help you spot craters and mountains on the lunar surface.
While the moon will appear larger and brighter, it will also accentuate low and high tides on Earth. Research suggests that decades of supermoons have been shown to heighten erosion risk on sandy beaches.
June’s full moon is commonly known as the “strawberry” moon, a name given by the Algonquin Native American tribe in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada and describing the short strawberry harvesting season in the region. European names include honey moon and rose moon, referring to honey harvesting and roses blooming during that time.
Although supermoons are not exceedingly rare, they do not occur every month. A full moon happens every 29.5 days, while the moon hits perigee every 27 days, overlapping occasionally. June’s supermoon follows another one in May. Next month’s full moon, known as the Buck Moon, will occur July 13 and will also be a supermoon. The moon will be within 222,089 miles of Earth, making this the closest supermoon of the year. August’s supermoon will occur around the 12th.
The strawberry supermoon is only one exciting celestial event occurring in June. The summer solstice on June 21 marks the astronomical end of spring and start of summer. On June 24, before dawn, sky watchers can also see Earth’s five closest planetary neighbors in a row for the first time in 18 years.